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Managing change: Five fundamental observations
Managing change: Five fundamental observations
Managing change: Five fundamental observations
Managing change: Five fundamental observations
Managing change: Five fundamental observations
Managing change: Five fundamental observations
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Managing change: Five fundamental observations

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Article on five fundamental observations about managing change by Ivan Overton, Jannie du Toit & Marilise Smit. 2009

Article on five fundamental observations about managing change by Ivan Overton, Jannie du Toit & Marilise Smit. 2009

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  • 1. FIVE FUNDAMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT MANAGING CHANGE by Ivan Overton, Jannie du Toit & Marilise Smit - ChangeWright Consulting, Johannesburg, South Africa INTRODUCTION Large-scale organisational change is often implemented by means of projects that have tight deadlines, limited internal and external Change management resources and fixed budgets. Effective change management in such is a combination of project environments requires a practical, results-focused and science and art – in deadline-driven approach. A well-defined methodology and toolset the practice of change that can be adapted easily to unique requirements and management, the circumstances can enable change facilitators (which could be organisational leaders, internal or external change managers or “what” is often a even project team members) to add value rapidly and effectively. science, but much of the “how” will always A practical change methodology and efficient tools are usually necessary but never sufficient preconditions for good change remain an art, as much management, for these are largely limited to what must be done. In a function of who you change management, how things are done is often at least equally are than of what you important. Getting the “how” right requires a thorough understanding know. of how people react to change, a strong sense of what would be appropriate to the culture of the organisation, and a good practical The “how” is also understanding of what is required to establish change sustainably in where much of the the organisation (which would also often require a good magic of change understanding of the relevant industry). Furthermore, the change facilitator has to maintain a fine balance between compassion and management – and objectivity, creativity and practicality, flexibility and delivering to plan. many potential pitfalls – may be encountered. The “what” can be learnt fairly easily, but the “how” comes rather more slowly with experience. The really effective change facilitators are those who are able to excel at both the “what” and the “how”, while remaining authentic by contributing their own personal 1 uniqueness to particularly the “how”. This is a tall order indeed, and it is this combination of self, art and craft that makes really good change management a far more difficult proposition than what may be suggested by a casual reading of material dealing with the “what”. In our work over the past years, in practising this deceptively difficult art and science, we have noticed some fundamental truths that help to illuminate aspects of both the “how” and the “what”, and we would like to share them here: 1 This statement might seem a little esoteric, and might be better explained by an example from the performing arts: Robert de Niro would be considered by most movie buffs to be an excellent actor. He has played in a wide variety of roles, always very convincingly. Yet in every role that he plays, he remains very recognisably Robert de Niro. He brings himself into every role he plays, which makes for so much more authenticity. One cannot engage effectively at a personal level with others as a change facilitator without similar authenticity. Copyright © 2008 ChangeWright Consulting (Pty) Ltd 1
  • 2. 1. IT IS ALL TOO EASY TO UNDERESTIMATE CHANGE MANAGEMENT In the course of our work, we have seen far too many instances where change management has been under-resourced, initiated too late or stopped too early, neglected by leadership, and approached with woefully inadequate standards and poor discipline. It is true that the outcomes that we seek to achieve – alignment, awareness, knowledge, understanding, participation, commitment, collaboration, adoption, respect, trust, empathy, and enthusiasm, to name but a few, are quite simple in nature. And because they are concepts that are quite familiar to us from our everyday life, we tend to think “no big deal, we can easily work that into our project”. But it is also true that a failure to reach these outcomes characterises much of human social life with tragic consequences: genocide, ethnic violence, state suppression and wars can be cited as examples where humans failed to reach mutually acceptable outcomes by peaceful means. At the more personal and intimate level of interpersonal relationships there is far more opportunity for constructive engagement and communication, and one would expect a more positive picture. Alas, this is not necessarily the case. Marriages end in divorce because couples fail to reach many of the same outcomes that we listed above. Many parents struggle to understand their teenage children, and often complain that it is well-nigh impossible to communicate with them. Children in turn complain about being misunderstood, about not being heard by their parents. The first step towards ensuring good change management is to avoid underestimating the difficulty, complexity and scope of work required. If we paused to look beyond the apparent simplicity and familiarity of change management outcomes like alignment or understanding, we would realise that these and others like them remain extremely elusive across the full range of human co-existence, from a macro social level through to the micro interpersonal level. There are no grounds for assuming that we can achieve them any more easily within organisations. 2. PEOPLE WILL ONLY CHANGE IF THEY START DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY Those who will be affected by organisational change can often only truly understand the impact of change when they are required to start doing things differently. The foundation for sustainable change does not lie only in the “head” and “heart” understanding and acceptance of what will change but requires the “hands” being enabled to do things differently and experiencing things differently. We may strike comparisons between the work that goes into a large organisational change initiative before implementation and a wedding, and also between the actual implementation and married life. The wedding (if it is a large one) involves many months of hard work and careful planning of every detail. It is only once the reception and honeymoon are over and the newlyweds need to settle into married life that they will be required to start doing things differently. How much actual preparation have most people done and what type of support structures are in place for this stage of the journey? Similarly, organisations often deploy large project teams (internal and external) with big budgets and much fanfare around planned timeframes and activities to drive the implementation of large change initiatives – a typical example of this would be the implementation of large integrated business information systems. Once the system is live and people are actually required to do things differently, external consultants “roll off” the project, internal resources go back to their old jobs and no or very little budget remains to be applied to support and embed the change. This causes a loss of momentum and the drive required to sustain the change. It is at this stage that affected stakeholders should actually receive exceptional support and encouragement to make the change happen and then stick. Newly implemented change is like a very tiny Copyright © 2008 ChangeWright Consulting (Pty) Ltd 2
  • 3. seedling – it requires careful nurturing to allow it to grow and become strong enough to survive on its own. Of course, it is not enough that the project team (or at least part of the team) merely maintains a presence for some time after the implementation of change – they also need to be focused on the right things, such as: • Ongoing communication, support and guidance to stakeholders. • Ongoing issue resolution. • Effective “hand-over” processes and facilitation to ensure that key project activities required for ongoing sustainability are carried over into the post-project phase by permanent role players who accept responsibility for this. • Alignment of organisational processes to support the new reality – this includes recruitment, induction, performance management and training and development. 3. PEOPLE DON’T MIND CHANGE, BUT THEY DO MIND BEING CHANGED People tend to be unaffected by communications regarding an impending change until they truly get to understand (and ultimately feel) how it affects them. Simply telling people about change is not an effective way of managing change - especially if the “telling” takes the (sadly quite typical) form of a bombardment of unrealistic hype and inappropriate content through one-way, mass communication channels such as email, intranets, electronic newsletters and posters. We call this “change management lite” – it may make project leadership feel comfortable that the change management team is producing the goods, but could in reality cause more problems than it supposedly solves by creating unrealistic expectations, squandering valuable communication opportunities, creating more distance between stakeholders and the project team, and ultimately leaving stakeholders overwhelmed with irrelevance, ill-equipped for the change and feeling left out in the cold when the real change starts affecting them. Those affected by change should not simply just “be told” about the change before it happens. There should be less hype and more real interaction – people change when they talk, not when they listen. The project team and organisational leadership should also take the time and make the effort to get to grips with what the major change impacts will be and how to prepare for this – not only will this help to ensure that there are no major surprises, but it will generate real content for constructive communication. Even before the change starts affecting stakeholders, major change impacts should be pro-actively addressed through well-laid enablement plans, and there should be ongoing dialogue and interaction in this regard. Being involved in getting ready for change, and having a voice in this process has the effect of empowering people and is a very valuable intervention in its own right. 4. PEOPLE WILL CHANGE: SOMETIMES BY SEEING THE LIGHT BUT MORE OFTEN BY FEELING THE HEAT 2 Practical experience strongly supports Rogers’ innovation curve (as generalised by Rogers from an early 3 study by Bohlen and Beal in the field of agriculture and depicted below) - about 15% of people embrace change quite readily (Rogers refers to them as Innovators and Early Adopters), and the remaining 85% are naturally inclined (to varying extents) to be more resistant to change. 2 Rogers, Everett (2003). Diffusion of innovations. (5th ed). Free Press. 3 Bohlen, Joe M.; Beal, George M. (May 1957), "The Diffusion Process", Special Report No. 18 (Agriculture Extension Service, Iowa State College)v Copyright © 2008 ChangeWright Consulting (Pty) Ltd 3
  • 4. Readiness to change is strongly influenced by subjective perceptions of the desirability of the status quo versus the desirability of a future state. If the status quo is more attractive (less negatives, more positives) than the future state, change is far less likely. The Innovators and Early Adopters in Roger’s innovation curve tend to see the positives in the future state more readily – they have a tendency to “see the light” and require minimal change management intervention (Innovators in particular can also often become effective change agents), whilst the remaining 85% require substantially more change facilitation. 4 Innovation adoption curve categories Innovators Brave people, pulling the change, innovators are very important communication mechanisms. Early adopters Respectable people, opinion leaders, try out new ideas, but in a careful way. Early majority Thoughtful people, careful but accepting change more quickly than average people do. Late majority Sceptical people will use new ideas or products only when the majority is using it. Laggards Traditional people, caring for the “old ways”, are critical towards new ideas and will only accept it if the new idea has become mainstream or even tradition. Most change facilitators are naturally inclined to focus on “the light” – the positive aspects of the future state. Often the other component – “the heat” is neglected. However, as one moves from left to right on Roger’s innovation curve, the tendency is for people to become increasingly resistant to seeing the light. Without a careful application of some “heat”, it is therefore likely that a significant proportion of stakeholders will attempt to extend the status quo, delaying timely and effective adoption of change (and of course the benefits associated with the realisation of the change). “Creating heat” simply means making the current situation less comfortable. This can be achieved through mechanisms which include targeted dialogue, peer pressure, the careful introduction of elements 4 Rogers, Everett (2003). Diffusion of innovations. (5th ed). Free Press. Copyright © 2008 ChangeWright Consulting (Pty) Ltd 4
  • 5. of competition among different organisational units, realignment of performance management agreements, applying leverage through mechanisms for reward and recognition, and increasing management pressure for change. It is important when working with interventions that are aimed at creating more “heat” to remain true to the principle that no harm should be done to the individual or the organisation. The “creating heat” dynamic is well represented in the Nel’s ESP (Empathy, Space and Pressure) 5 approach to change . Even though there will be a few people who adopt and commit to change quickly and quite easily, there will always be others who experience discomfort in some form and find it harder to commit to the change. • Regardless of the phase of a change initiative, Empathy needs to be pervasive and requires, inter alia, time to digest information and to interact with others to debate the change with freedom from fear that questioning and voicing concerns will be interpreted as resistance or a cause for victimisation. • During the early stages of the change initiative methods should be employed that offer or create personal Space that enable people to experience their early human responses to change and thereby better prepare themselves for the change. Nel holds that methods that offer space create the foundation upon which a creative minority and eventual critical mass can work to build a committed - although probably inactive and cautious - majority. • Pressure methods make it increasingly impossible for people not to change their behaviours, attitudes and responses. 5. IT REALLY MATTERS WHO “DOES” CHANGE MANAGEMENT If change management is as much about how you do things as what you do, and if the “how” is very dependent on the person who does it, then you should pay very careful attention to who you employ as change facilitators, and to the roles that you expect them to fulfil. Internal versus external resources The ability and capacity to change effectively and sustainably is a strategic organisational resource – custodianship of this strategic resource should never be outsourced to external consultants. Having said that, large change initiatives often place enormous pressure on internal resources and it makes sense to employ consultants to assist with the effort. Organisations should take great care to ensure that they understand who – at an individual level – will be employed as external change facilitators, and that these individuals are suitably qualified and a good “fit” to the organisation. Good external change consultants should always do their best to “work themselves out of a job” by enabling leaders to play the role they should to ensure the successful implementation of a change initiative and, as far as possible, by working with internal resources to explicitly transfer applicable skills and knowledge. The role of leadership Project teams appointed to deliver change initiatives often take on an inappropriate role – they try to “sell” the initiative to the organisation and take accountability for business issues, thereby implicitly taking ownership for the decision to change, as well as the outcomes of the change. A more correct positioning 5 Christo Nel, “The ESP of Change - A structured way to facilitate constructive transformation.”, 1997. Copyright © 2008 ChangeWright Consulting (Pty) Ltd 5
  • 6. of typical top-down change initiatives in organisations would be that the senior leadership of the organisation takes explicit ownership of the decision to change and for the outcomes of change, and then delegates part of the responsibility for the outcomes of change to next level of leadership. The project 6 team then becomes correctly positioned as a resource appointed to help effect the change. The leader’s explicit and visible ownership of the decision to change needs to be real. It is not wise nor a sustainable strategy to create false energy by launching a project if leadership does not have the energy nor the appetite for the change. Leaders should also have a thorough understanding of how the change relates to the bigger organisational picture: • the nature of change • the impact of change • whether and how the change supports the organisation’s strategic objectives • the organisation’s ability and capacity to deal with change and whether the organisation is actually experiencing change “overload”. They need to understand that much of the success of the change initiative is dependent on them as leaders, have a good grasp of the relevant change leadership roles they will be expected to fulfil and understand the initiative timeline and detail approach adequately to know where, when and how they should participate. IN CONCLUSION Change management has the potential for adding great value if done well, or great damage if done poorly. For this reason, it should be afforded a great deal of attention by all role players in organisational change, who will be well served by observing the dictum “do no harm to the individual or the organisation”. In summary, five fundamental observations regarding effective change management are: • Do not underestimate what will be required to manage change effectively. • Enable and support people most at the time when they are required to do things differently. • Engage simply, honestly and consistently with those affected by the change, allow lots of opportunity for dialogue and interaction. • By all means show people the light, but don’t forget to also turn up the heat (but with empathy). • It matters greatly who facilitates the change – this group should ALWAYS include leadership who should play a very significant role. 6 Ivan Overton, “Why change goes wrong”, 2007, a publication by ChangeWright Consulting (Pty) Ltd Copyright © 2008 ChangeWright Consulting (Pty) Ltd 6

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